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Relevant TL thread: http://chat.stackexchange.com/transcript/message/9390241#9390241

Related dupe: Delete softly when using the big stick. You may want to read that first, Andrew's given a much more thorough reasoning for why the feature is necessary.

Currently, there are two broad situations leading to account deletion:

  • Voluntary: The user wishes to delete their account, and uses the delete button or requests moderators to do the deletion.

  • Involuntary: This is when a moderator deletes/destroys an account. This is usually used for spammers or sockpuppets.

When an account is deleted/destroyed, the account page becomes a 404, and the usercard shows a greyed out avatar/username, with the username in userXXXX format:

enter image description here

All user data is removed (from a moderator point of view -- the system may still keep a few details)

I completely understand why the data should be wiped in the case of a voluntary deletion -- if I want to leave a website, I expect to take my information with me. It's a privacy concern if a site doesn't do a reasonably good job of wiping data of a user who voluntarily quits. SE seems to do that well -- I don't particularly mind if part of the data is buried in the database and accessible to devs -- as long as most of the data is wiped and users/mods can't see anything I'm fine.


However, with an "involuntary" deletion, mods lose access to potentially useful data. Links to posts, IPs, et cetera.

In the case of a spammer it means that old spam posts are harder to dig up if we want to figure out what to blacklist. IP data can let us catch new spammer accounts easily.

In the case of a sockpuppet, IP and activity data can be used to identify other socks -- and that is destroyed. Especially in the case of puppets created to circumvent a low-quality ban -- IP xreffing is a good way to find more low quality posts.

Here, there aren't any privacy concerns as the user didn't ask for account deletion.


So, for such cases, could mods get a "soft delete" tool? Here, the userpage becomes a 404 for everyone except mods. The greyed out usercards now link to the profile (not too important, it's easy to get the profile from the id with some URL manipulation).

All the tools related to IP/activity should also work for these users -- for example, if I run an IP xref on another user, this user should show up (possibly with a purple background) in the xref.

This way, when investigating new accounts for sockpuppetry or when battling spam, we get easy access to some useful data about the IP/etc.


Update: Now that mods are being encouraged to use deletions instead of >1y suspensions., this is needed even more.

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    On Drupal Answers, I have seen a spammer to whom I destroyed the account creating another account with the same display name, and from the same IP after few minutes. Maybe if the account is soft-deleted, the system would have enough information to avoid the user creates other spam after the previous account is destroyed. – kiamlaluno May 13 '13 at 12:07
  • I agree wholeheartedly. I have taken to "perma-suspensions" to maintain records for us mods, at times. Feels less than ideal. – Andrew Barber May 13 '13 at 12:11
  • I know that as moderator I could delete the posts, and leave the account intact, but that would be more work for moderators, especially in sites smaller than Stack Overflow, where a spammer can create more than 10 posts before he got noticed. – kiamlaluno May 13 '13 at 12:11
  • Even for self-deletes I, as a moderator, would like to have access to the userID/name pairings, and perhaps IP address as well. – Monica Cellio May 13 '13 at 15:54
  • @AndrewBarber Nice trick. Let me post a duplicate next time and gather some rep to put up a bounty on feature-requests. – Antony May 20 '13 at 19:20
  • I would suggest the opposite. Imagine you had a user who kept volunteering to delete his account every time he was suspended, then starting a new one right away: wouldn't you want some account details to help identify him as the user who is evading suspension? – Double AA May 20 '13 at 22:29
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    @DoubleAA: I guess, in such circumstances it may be OK for a mod to use a soft delete. I still feel that a user has full right to withdraw stuff completely and irrevocably, but I guess we can have a policy to use hard deletion only in good faith deletions. Also: remember that the deletion duality won't necessarily be publicized much more outside of meta, so I think the abuse of this will be quite rare. Either way, having soft deletion to deal with most cases is better than no soft deletion at all. – Manishearth May 21 '13 at 8:21
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+100

I don't think it is necessary to preserve spam accounts, the accounts are actually pretty much irrelevant. They don't represent persons anyway, and spammers usually create many different accounts.

The data that is interesting to keep beyond the spammers lifetime is the post id for all spam posts and the IPs the user posted from. If that could be aggregated in some form automatically for all spam posts it should be sufficient in my opinion to remove any necessity for the spam accounts themselves to stay alive in any form.

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    IMO it would be easier to implement a "soft deleted account" flag that would hide an account from the view of normal users than to log part of the data in a new table. But I'm no dev :) – Manishearth May 13 '13 at 16:02
  • I don't know where exactly it is, but Nick Craver explained how complicated such a flag would be in response to one of my feature requests. That is one of the reasons why I'm proposing an alternate solution – Mad Scientist May 13 '13 at 17:07

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